Artist: Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
Album: Way Out West
Release Date: 03/10/2017
Is there anything that Marty Stuart and this great band cannot do? Of course, I go back to their landmark gospel album, 2005’s Souls Chapel, and although he didn’t credit the Fabulous Superlatives on his Native American album, Badlands – Ballads of the Lakota, many band members played on it. So, he has repeatedly proven they can make excellent concept albums, not to mention the many intervening albums that have embraced honky-tonk country, gospel, blues, bluegrass and classic country. Now Marty and his gang are back with yet another remarkable concept album, this time helped by co-producer Mike Campbell, of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
This is a cinematic album that will conjure up visions of open desert, treacherous mountains and big skies. Although Stuart is one of last links to classic legends like Johnny Cash and George Jones, Marty’s got a bit of that cosmic cowboy, psychedelic vibe going on here too. Stuart and his mates left Nashville to record the album at Hollywood’s renowned Capitol studios as well as Campbell’s own home studio. The two met when Stuart joined Petty’s group on Johnny Cash’s 1996 Unchained album. Elements of this desert motif appeared on Petty’s 2010 release Mojo, which was co-produced by Campbell.
The album is a mix of instrumental and vocal tunes, some original and some covers, that at times involve interesting instruments. You’ll hear sitar in the opening “Desert Prayer – Part 1” along with some Native American sounds. The rather mournful love song “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” and the closing reprise of the title track have the backing of a string quartet. Stuart’s Mojave has that guitar reverb we associate with his sound. The Buddy Mize/Dallas Frazier tune “Lost on the Desert” and the title track will evoke those fugitive songs from Johnny Cash. It’s not hard to envision snakes, poisonous ants, cacti and even peyote when listening to these tales. The instrumental “El Fantasma Del Toro” sounds like a classic spaghetti western theme from your favorite TV western.
There’s plenty of great guitar work, a hallmark of Stuart albums, as both Stuart and Kenny Vaughan are often joined by Chris Scruggs on pedal steel and Campbell on various guitars. You’ll hear sounds of the Byrds, surf guitar and the use of wah-wah pedals to create effects. Highlights here include “Time Don’t Wait,” the instrumentals “Quicksand” and “Torpedo,” and the rave-up honky tonker “Airmail Special.” Perhaps the most classic country sounding tune is “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles to Go)” near the end of the album, which is followed by another Stuart hallmark– three part harmony– heard on the redemptive “Wait for the Morning.” The closing reprise of the title track features ten musicians and the vocal harmonies again from Stuart, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs.
Only time will prove whether this work will have the enduring power of the more focused Souls Chapel, but this mines completely different territory and is more musically adventurous. Stuart has revealed his love for the west on previous albums like the aforementioned Native American work and the excellent Ghost Train. Maybe he’s even nodding a bit to his namesake, Marty Robbins. Again, when Stuart sets his mind to a grand project, you can count on great results.